“Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Many questions have arisen over the years concerning this most loved and cherished hymn such as: What is so amazing about grace? Saved from what? What does it mean that the author is a wretch? Let’s take a moment and try to answer these questions.
When the author of this hymn, namely John Newton, spoke of “grace,” he was thinking about the gracious activity of God, the creator of all things, the One who sustains or holds all things together, the One who will one day judge all things according to His perfect standard of right and wrong. He would agree with the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being…Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).
The God that the Apostle Paul described and that Newton praised has revealed Himself in creation and by His recorded word (the Bible). What is He like? To summarize what He has revealed about Himself, God is Spirit (not material nor limited by anything), infinite, eternal, unchangeable, all wise, all powerful, holy, just, good and the source of all goodness.
Newton had discovered the wonder and majesty of God and His grace that saved Him from His wretched state. What exactly did he mean by being a wretch that needed saving? Again through the Bible he knew that God created us after His own image, according to His likeness to enable us to have a relationship with Him and to enjoy Him and His blessings that He so abundantly gives to us.
Our Deadly Problems
Why then do we see and experience with Newton the wretched existence (evil) that so pervades everything around us? It is because we have rebelled against our Creator and try to live as God, determining for ourselves what is good and what is evil. Newton learned of this wretchedness and of his need for God’s grace as he read his Bible and examined his life. It was God’s evaluation of His situation and gracious intervention that moved him to write this hymn. His problems (and ours as well), according to God, includes the following
First, we have a rebellious heart. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). “The heart is deceitful above all things, and is desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Second, we have a guilty past (a bad record). “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).
Finally, we lead a destructive life. “As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one. their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit, The poison of asps is under their lips, Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18).
Newton understood that he had a problem. And he was not alone, for we have the same problem as well. We are sinners and we sin against the holy God. He has declared that “the wages (payment) of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Since God is holy and a just judge, He must punish sin. But praise be to God that by His grace He Himself has overcome our terrible situation and provides a way of escaping His judgment and wrath.
God’s Gracious Solutions
What has God provided? Let’s consider each person of the triune God and what they do to provide all that we need. First, God the Father has promised to give
- A New Heart. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
- A New Record. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols” (Ezekiel 36:25).
- A New Life. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27).
Second, God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation.
- He removes our rebellious heart and provides a new heart that delights after God and His will (i.e. to be “born again” or “made alive” (regeneration)). “How shall we who died to sin … reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:2, 11). “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
- He suffered the penalty for sin on the cross and He fulfilled everything that God requires of us (i.e. perfect obedience and righteousness). “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- He eliminates our destructive life and provides all that is necessary to live a blessed life that is pleasing to God. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Finally, God the Holy Spirit applies what Christ has accomplished by his life, death and resurrection.
- He implants the new heart within us. “When the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).
- He seals Christ’s righteousness to our account. “Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
- He empowers us to live a new life. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22). “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
Your Correct Response
Hopefully by now you have gained a greater appreciation for what John Newton made known through this hymn. He recognized that we are in very serious trouble due to our sin and rebellion against God. Yet God, by His mercy and grace has personally intervened and has provided all that we need to be saved from our great troubles.
What must you do? If what has been said in this pamphlet is true, that salvation is by the amazing grace of God, then there is nothing that you or I can do. The Apostle Paul declared that it is “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
If God by His grace and Spirit has given you new life (a new heart), then He has also enabled you to respond to His call to repent and believe this good news (the gospel), for He has declared that “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21) and “Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
Will you call on the name of the Lord and be saved?
Do you confess that through your sin and rebellion that you have personally offended God and are worthy of His just judgment and punishment both now and in eternity?
Do you confess your inability to deliver yourself and do you trust in His gracious intervention on your behalf?
Do you hate your sin and rebellion and will you rely upon God’s grace that He will change your heart and your life?
Will you seek to learn and grow in the grace of God through His provisions such as the Word of God (the Bible), prayer, and involvement with His people (the church)?
How Can We Help?
We at Rehoboth Reformed Church are available to answer your questions, to pray with and for you, or to provide further instruction in the wonderful truth of God’s amazing grace. Please call us at (626) 820-9390 or visit us at RehobothReformedChurch.org.
Pastor Michael Voytek
(Portions of the material in this tract was adapted from the booklet “The Way To God” by Dr. Henry Krabbendam).